Communicating about better harnessing for healthier and more productive donkeys
THE GOOD HARNESS GUIDE
GUIDE TO PACKSADDLES
© DONKEYS for AFRICA 2021
by Dr Peta Jones
Training material about harnessing.
Click on the image for a link or PDF download.
HARNESS HELP - Abbreviated PDF guide from our FB posts by Chris Garrett
Full collars – can they work in our setting?
A poorly designed or ill-fitted harness will cause inefficient transfer of power from the animal to the equipment, leading to decreased working efficiency and output, discomfort, fatigue and in many cases cutaneous and musculoskeletal injuries. (From Animal Technology and Welfare, August 2021: Special Interest Section.
Electronic instrumentation of a swingletree for equid pull load monitoring: a contribution for the welfare and performance of working donkeys) www.atwjournal.com/thejournal
The best designed harness can still do harm in the wrong hands, if badly or wrongly fitted. We all agree that the donkey is an important draft animal and is often the only option in certain parts of the world. We also know that it is a relatively small, stoic animal, and is regularly pushed to deliver more than it should.
Through more efficient harness we can improve working conditions for donkeys as well as their owners.
IMAGE: amaTrac uluntu
MARES Donkey Sanctuary conducted successful outreach programs in Bela Bela, South Africa in conjunction with Network for Animals as well as in Victoria Falls for education on correct harnessing.
Ideally, we would like all scotch carts to be 4 wheel, not 2 wheel, which would alleviate the weight of the cart and load on the donkeys' necks. However, this is impossible so we are working with what the owners have, 2 wheel scotch carts.
In Zimbabwe, every scotch cart we see has 4 donkeys across. Part of our education is to inform the owners that only 2 of the donkeys are carrying not only the pulling weight but also the downward load. 4 donkeys will only increase the pulling weight, you cannot add extra downward load. Therefore the 2 donkeys holding the load on their necks by means of the yoke can only carry 40% of their weight.
We also educate the owners of 2 wheel donkey carts that the donkeys must be hitched to the cart by means of a swingle tree and straps (normally they use chains) that must be a minimum of 1.5m long. Each swingletree must have 2 x 1.5m chains.
Some harness knowledge-sharing from organisations in Africa:
From MARES in Zimbabwe:
Many of the donkeys' back legs are severely injured, sometimes even fractured, due to them being attached too close to the cart. It is imperative that the donkeys are attached to the front of the dusselboom (dusselboom must be 2m from front of the cart) which will allow a 50cm gap between the back of the donkey and the cart. This way, when the cart is stopped it cannot go into the donkeys as the donkeys cannot step backwards as they are attached to the end of the dusselboom.
Our most important part of our education is about the harness. 80% of all wounds found on the donkeys are from ill-fitting harnesses and of course wrongly hitched to the cart. Our harnesses can be adjusted to the size of the donkeys by means of a buckle on each strap. The positions of the straps are very important, the front strap is over the wither of the donkey and the second strap is on the strong part of the donkey's back. Our harnesses are also padded so that the material which is normally used, conveyor belting, does not chafe or cut into the donkey. This padding is fastened to the chest plate and the 2 straps with Velcro, allowing the padding to be removed for washing, drying and even replacing when worn.
From Zambezi Working Donkey Project in Zambia
LINK TO THE BROOKE SADDLEAID HARNESS INITIATIVE
DONKEY POWER HARNESSING VIDEO
by Dr Peta Jones (200MB)
LINK TO THE SPANA YOUTUBE VIDEO ABOUT HARNESSING
ZWDP - Harness Report 2021
A prototype humane harness has been tested under supervision with several farmers. People understood the benefits once these were explained to them, but the difficulty came when the owners were asked to assemble and fit the harnesses on their own. The harness could be fitted the wrong way, losing effectiveness and causing discomfort or even injury to the donkeys.
ZWDP is now working on building a saddlepack using two shaped wooden slats that will sit either side of the spine spanned by a grooved bridge in which will sit the yoke/crosstree. This will attach to the existing harness with a padded numnah underneath, made from old blankets. The team is working on how best to assemble this in a way that it can be easily modified or replaced by the donkey owners if needed. This design will tested over the next few weeks.
Vets Without Borders from Sweden is supporting ZWDP to design and test a new type of harness for use with scotch carts.
The biggest hurdle is the common single-shaft two-wheel cart design with two or more donkeys taking the burden of the load on their necks by means of a wooden yoke. The lack of understanding of the pain and distress of donkeys suffering from the terrible wounds caused, and the fact that materials suggested are too expensive for owners who live below the poverty line, are major issues.
As always the challenges of getting new designs understood, accepted and adopted are enormous. ZWDP has had a great deal of success with replacing the ox yokes with rudimentary harness made from disused conveyer belt which, when trimmed down makes a strong, durable and cheap medium with which to work. The donkeys pull through their chests rather than their necks. However, there is still considerable weight on the necks, especially when the cart is stationary.
Correctly made and fitted full collars are not often found in Africa. Chris Garrett of the Donkey Sanctuary, together with colleagues, believes that these are the most efficient collars. They are also the most comfortable and versatile if they are well made and correctly fitted. Currently that happens in countries that have the skills, materials and knowledge, mainly in Europe, UK and North America. Full collars are found in other countries such as Mexico and Egypt but are often not correctly applied. (Refer to The Good Harness Guide
Pg 14 – 21.)
The use of a simplified full collar is under investigation. Trials have produced two simple hybrids that can be made reasonably easily anywhere, and which have proven to be more efficient, comfortable and versatile than the breast collar. One other benefit is that one of the hybrids may be compatible with converting existing yokes.
The emerging trend for the use of animal traction in small and medium sized farms in developed countries, as an alternative or complementary option to motorised traction, can benefit our African situation where donkey power is the first and often only option.
We invite your comments on the above via email to firstname.lastname@example.org